By Marsha M. Brown
For those who love cars, races and NASCAR…your weekend has arrived! This weekend is the mega race that kicks off the season determining who can drive the fastest, avoid numerous accidents in the process and still make it to the finish line…first. This is the real deal.
Now let me tell you about me and NASCAR. By 2002, my sweetie pie Billy and I had been married 35 years. In all those years he had always wanted to attend a NASCAR DAYTONA 500 race but unfortunately something else always took priority. Now, mind you, for as long as I’d known Billy, he’d loved cars and trucks and everything to do with them. Billy watched without fail every race that TV had to offer, rarely missing a one. If he wasn’t watching qualifying or pre-empts to the ‘500’ he was watching Dave Despain’s car collector shows or Barrett Jackson Auctions in Arizona or West Palm Beach. He IS a car man through and through. He enjoys sports overall, especially baseball and football, but racing is his first love. Whenever he’d watch a race, I’d go in another room and watch HGTV, craft and decorating shows and that was that because car racing just wasn’t my thing. I couldn’t understand what was so great about the cars going ‘round and round’ in a circle with that loud roar of engines…vroom, vroom…competing, everybody crashing in a pile and having to restart the race over and over again. But that was OK because Billy liked his races and I liked my craft shows and all was lovely.
At that time real estate sales was hitting a high note and I was one of the top sales agents at the firm I worked for. I had just transitioned back into sales full time from years in property management and both houses and lots were ‘moving’ quickly. Buyers were eager to buy and sellers were motivated to sell and I was more than happy to accommodate them all.
Then one morning at the office I mentioned to a friend that with Valentines Day approaching, I wished I could surprise Billy with a trip to Daytona to see the DAYTONA 500. To my surprise, she told me she had just heard Marty Brill on the radio on her way into work saying he had two tickets and if anybody was interested to give him a call. So…I did. I arranged with Marty to buy the tickets asking him to promise he would save them for me to buy for my sweetie pie Billy’s Valentines present. I was so excited I could hardly stand it…I knew my darling would be so happy and I could hardly wait.
I began calling Florida to make arrangements for the three day weekend for a room with two queens…since I knew I wouldn’t be going. I wanted Billy to go but with work being so busy I thought it best I stay behind and sell real estate. Once everything was in place, and his accommodations were arranged, I typed a one page letter telling him how much I loved him and how I couldn’t think of anything that would make him happier than to see the DAYTONA 500 first hand, up front and personal. I explained that I had arranged for a nice room for him not far from the track with two queens so he could take another fella with him. I wish you could have seen his face. As he read the letter, his eyes got bigger and bigger and they watered up. His face lit up like little ‘Ralphie’ when he got his Red Ryder BB Gun in the movie “A Christmas Story”. It was so sweet…he was so happy and I was so proud. My wonderful veteran husband who had always wanted to go to Daytona for the ‘500’ was going to finally get there!
He asked me to go and experience it with him but he understood that I was working with very serious buyers and sellers at the time and that I felt it best to stay here. So, he asked our nephew to go instead and from that day forward his great big smile was frozen in place. He went, had a great time and came home baptized in the NASCAR tradition. But besides the race itself, he told me about the way the event had honored veterans and active military. He bragged about the flyovers, special patriotic music and prayers for our troops. He especially liked the pride that was shown when the popular racing event celebrated our military.
The following year in 2003 real estate was still rockin’ n rollin’ which enabled us to plan the trip back to Daytona again but this time…I would join him. Honestly? I went because he wanted me to. I said “OK, to be with you I’ll go, but you know I’m not big on racing”. We made the trip and got to the track early for each event leading up to the big one on Sunday. Billy asked me who I’d want to win and in looking at the race magazines, I had decided it would be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. At the time, he was #8 and his red Chevrolet car was sponsored primarily by Budweiser. I liked what I had read about him and I thought it took a special courage to race on the very track where his famous Daddy, Dale Earnhardt #3 had tragically died in 2001. So, I had my pick and Billy had his…Ricky Rudd, a Chesapeake native.
Finally, the time had come and I heard, “Drivers, s-t-a-r-t your engines!” and I’ve got to tell you, the first time they passed the green flag wide open, I was hooked! By golly, I was hooked! I was on my feet, cheering for “Jr.”, whooping and hollering like a wild woman…just like everybody else, I was ‘one of them’. I was so impressed when I saw first hand the skill of the drivers…it was truly incredible. Billy was stunned. He looked at me with a priceless smile and put his arm around me tightly. It was one of those moments…the kind you don’t forget. When I left the track that day, I was wearing a “Jr.” T-shirt, a “Jr.” hat and I even sported a back pack with “Jr.” #8 and Budweiser all over it and I had to laugh at myself. Without a doubt, Billy had converted me!
Update: since Billy’s first trip to Daytona we’ve been able to go five more times together. Ricky Rudd retired from racing; Billy took more interest in Dale Jr. too who is now #88 driving for the National Guard…go “Jr.”! The economy and a dramatic slow down in real estate waylaid our DAYTONA 500 trips for now but I promise we’ll be sitting in our little house watching intently as they go ‘round and ‘round again. As for “Jr.”, well, he hasn’t had a stellar finish in a while but he’s still our guy, no matter what and the fact he’s driving for the National Guard makes us even more proud he’s our pick!
Now, you may be wondering what NASCAR and DAYTONA 500 has to do with GIG LINE, but what I want to stress to anyone who may not already know is the patriotic spirit at the track. If you haven’t been there to see it for yourself, the event demonstrates outstanding acts of patriotism for our veterans, active military and their families. The announcers, singers, entertainers and clergy who offer song and prayer give homage to our troops and all men and women who have served our country.
When you look at the faces of the crowd who surround you, you see American pride; when you put your hand over your heart as you stare at the beautiful football field size American flag unrolled at the finish line, your heart swells with pride; when you see folks from all walks of life wiping their eyes and when everybody together looks up toward the heavens to see the flyovers where jet noise generously fill your ears, you smile because they are ours, they represent us, they are “our” heroes. This Sunday the United States Air Force Thunderbirds will conduct the flyover. I wish we could be there and I wish you could be there too.
In an article I read that was written by Catherine Lash of the Charlotte Military News Examiner, she wrote that a spokesman for NASCAR, Ramsey Poston had reported “one in three service men or women is a NASCAR fan and that one in five either serve now or have served”. I believe it. At a race, you see a lot of military and you can’t help but feel the ‘spirit’.
I ask that you celebrate sporting events that call attention to our veterans. Please encourage everyone you know in all aspects of life to do the same…to honor, salute and make known our pride in our veteran’s pride. No mistake about it, it is impossible to overindulge in the display of American patriotism and honor of those who have and are serving our country. Until next time, be happy, be safe, be proud, thank a veteran and stay tuned…
|Marsha M. Brown has been writing a weekly Gig Line since 2012. Marsha is the widow of Vietnam War army veteran Billy Brown of Manteo, NC. She was instrumental in establishing the Dare County Veterans Advisory Council and maintains an active role in the veteran community. You can reach Marsha with questions or suggestions at [email protected]. Have a story to tell or a veteran to feature? She would love to hear from you!|